Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fascinating Dvar Torah from Beit Shemesh Yekke Minyan Member R' Tzvi Abraham

Parshas Masai

After R. Shimeon had spent twelve years in a cave  contemplating the Majesty of Hashem, he went forth into the world.  He was shocked and pained by what he saw:  people ignoring the Majesty that had filled his dark cave  with Light  in order  to farm, weave, cook, and do all the little things that are needed to sustain the body.  Wherever he looked, people  were neglecting the contemplation of the Eternal for the sake of chayai sha'ah (the needs of the body in the short time we spend in this world).   His eye set fire to everything it saw.
Back to the cave!  Hashem commanded.  Have you left  the cave to destroy My world?
What did R. Shimeon learn during that second term in the cave?
Perhaps, after ascending to a glorious vision of Hashem’s Majesty,  he had to ascend even higher to appreciate the depth of His Humility and love for  the world. And so he was sent back in to the cave where his Spirit wandered through the Mysteries of Hashem's many worlds, until he realized how important they were to Him, though  compared to Him, they were virtually nothing.  Indeed, we could well imagine that R. Shimeon spent his many years in the cave moving through those worlds with hardly an eye for them--seeking only to know Hashem as He revealed Himself through them.
We were sent to back into the desert from the very threshold of Eretz Yisrael, the point from which we were to begin our conquest.
We had seen so many faces of Hashem's Majesty:  In Egypt, at Mt. Sinai, in pillars of fire and clouds of glory. We were so filled with the vision of His Majesty that we did not realize that,  in the living the presence of that Majesty, we were transformed, instilled with a  dignity and spiritual power no nation ever had or ever will. We so nullified ourselves before Hashem’s Glory,  that we had no awareness of the Divine Humility that moved Hashem to bestow something of that power upon us. 
We were no longer slaves, so  it was fitting that, when confronted by an enemy, we participate in the fighting.  But Hashem knew our sense of weakness;  He knew that we would be frightened by the prospect of war, so on our way out of Egypt, Hashem took us the long way just to avoid  a confrontation with the Pelishtim. We would have fled back to Egypt! 
 Rashi tells us that Moshe sent  spies into the land  at the request of Bnei Yisrael.  The Ibn Ezra points out that, in retelling the  story of the spies in Sefer Devarim, Moshe adds a detail we don't see it parshas Shlach:  Hashem had said, aleh reish, go forth and inherit [the land]. The people, it seems, assumed that the conquest of the land would depend largely on their prowess and military strength.  And so,   they sent out spies. And when the spies returned with the message that “The Canaanites are much stronger than we are, a race of giants.  Look at the amazing foods they eat!”  the people collapsed in fear, for they had no idea that their vision of Hashem's strength and the faith that followed Him into the desert had made them stronger, suffused them with something of the power that had defeated Egypt, and that it would  work through them, manifest itself from within them  to assist them after the manner of hidden miracles. And so, faced with the prospect of fighting a people that seemed to possess all the powers nature could bestow, they crumbled, unaware that they had at their disposal all the powers that Hashem, the Creator of nature, could bestow.
What was their sin?  Why was Hashem, who had been so indulgent of their fear of the P’lishtim, so angered by their fear of the Canaanim?  Why did He send them back into the desert to wander for forty years and raise a new generation?
Because now they had the Torah.  Now they were keeping the commandments,  and when a Jew keeps Hashem's commandments with all his heart and all his strength, he discovers  within himself  a strength that is greater than his own, an indwelling of a spiritual strength and source of  courage that could only be a gift of Hashem.
What, then, was the guilt of the people?  If they had served Him as they should, with all their heart and all their strength, they would know the indwelling of a spiritual strength that would give them the confidence to face even giants, like David, who   fought Goliath without fear.
In short, they lacked the trust in Hashem – the bitachon – they would have had if they had served Him as they should have, not only the bitachon that trusts Hashem to help in matters beyond our control (they had seen Hashem do that, when He liberated them from Egypt), but also the trust that Hashem instills the inner strength required to cope with whatever trials He sets before us. 
That bitachon, that trusts in Hashem to instill   the strength to cope with life’s trials, was harder for them, not only because they had not seen it, as they  had witnessed Hashem  subdue Egypt  with His Majestic Power, but also because it requires a recognition of the Divine Humility that imparts something of its own glory and power into the soul of man, a power he can exercise to face the trials of this world, the difficulties that face him in managing the challenges of chaya sha’ah.   In that respect,  we might compare the shortcoming of the generation that was sent back to journey in the desert to the shortcoming of R. Shimeon that required him to go back to his cave.   R. Shimeon had to update his recognition of Hashem’s Humility—His love  for the world-- to match the profoundly deepened vision of Hashem’s Majesty which he (R. Shimeon) had achieved while withdrawn from the world.   The Children of Israel awaken to the empowering gift   that Hashem bestows on those who serve Him, something of His own power with which He blesses those who cling to Him,  after having nullified themselves before the Divine Majesty  they had witness in Egypt and at Mt. Sinai.  Forty years of coping with the trials of living the desert  would do that.  They would discover their new strength, and know its true Source: their devotion to  Hashem, watching over and present among them.  

R' Tzvi Abraham

Monday, May 21, 2018

Next minyan

June 15, 2 Tammuz, Parshas Korach

Schedule:
Mincha: 7:17 PM (Sunset: 7:47 PM)
Kabbalas Shabbos
Dvar Torah
Maariv

Basur location

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Chad Gadya: An Interpretation


Chad Gadya: An Interpretation



by Rabbi Tzvi Abraham, of Adas Yeshurun, Beit Shemesh

Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came a cat and ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came a dog and bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came a stick and beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came fire and burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came water and quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.

Then came the ox and drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came the shochet and slaughtered the ox, that drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came the Angel of Death and killed the butcher, that slaughtered the ox, that drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.
Then came the Holy One, Blessed be He and slew the Angel of Death, that killed the butcher, that slaughtered the ox, that drank the water, that quenched the fire, that burnt the stick, that beat the dog, that bit the cat, that ate the goat, That Abba bought for two zuzim, Chad gadya. Chad gadya.



Chad Gadya  beckons interpretation.  It’s the concluding song of the Seder and that’s the key.  What do we expect from the final paragraph of an essay, or the conclusion of a  play?  Something that wraps it up and puts in perspective.  That’s what Chad Gadya does. 

The Haggadah is much more than the story of the Exodus.  It a bird’s eye view of Jewish history, not as a secular historian would see it, but as a sacred historian would see it:  as an unfolding of the spiritual destiny of Klal Yisrael,  from the beginning, when “our Fathers served idols,” to  the end, as we pour a cup for the prophet who will herald the coming of the Moshiach  and  petition (שפוך חמתך) for the manifestation Divine Justice that will mark the transition from the world we know to the world to come, in which all nations will revere Hashem and honor His Chosen People.  Chad Gadya identifies the essential motifs of the religious experience that drives our history.

Chad  Gadya – One kid  goat that Abba bought of two zuzim (Emunah)

The kid goat represents the Jewish People, which Hashem (Abba) acquired by bringing Bnei Yisrael to Mount Sinai and giving them the Two Tablets of the Law (The two zuzim).

Then came a cat and ate the goat (Kefirah)

The kid goat (the Jewish People )  is set apart from the nations by the emunah instilled at Sinai.  The opposite of emunah (revealed faith) is the kefirah of the  rationalist who scoffs at anything that cold reason cannot comprehend or ascertain. That scornful, cold intellect is represented by the “shunra,” the wild cat who hunts by stealth and pounces with cunning, killing the kid without compassion.

Then came a dog and bit the cat (The Longing Heart that finds no Peace in Kefirah)

The Hebrew word for dog is kelev, meaning “like the heart,”  and that’s what the dog represents, here:   the heart, with its longing for love.  The enmity between the dog and the cat is the struggle between the longings of the heart and the cold discipline of the intellect. The dog bites the cat because the longing for love, both human and Divine, is the greatest challenge to the rationalist spirit. For some, Judaism is more a matter of the heart; for others, more a matter of the mind.  The tension between heart and mind has been a driving force in Jewish history  (consider, for example, the rise of Hassidism).

Then came a stick and beat the dog (Torah Disciplines the Heart with Practice  and Images)

The stick disciplines the dog.  The dog is the heart that longs for love. Unless that longing is guided and disciplined by reason informed by emunah (i.e., Torah), that longing for love will turn to things that are hateful.  But how does reason address the heart?  Through images and practice (i.e. halachah).  They are compared, here, to the stick that disciplines the dog. Without that stick,  the heart may entirely reject authority of reason, and descend into the chaos of  whim and irrationalism.

 Then came fire and burnt the stick (When Mystical Passion Chafes at Halachic Restraint) 

The Transcendent  Glory of Hashem is revealed through an interior union  (d’vekus) unmediated by images, for just as Hashem transcends all things, we know Him most perfectly when we move beyond anything that an image can convey. The mystical passion that aspires to that interior union is the fire that burns the stick (the images and practice) that beat the dog (discipline the heart).  When mystical passion “burns the stick,” the communication based on images which reconciles the heart and the mind breaks down, so  the heart, swept up in the religious passion of the spirit, can feel constrained by the discipline of religious practice.  The result is antinomianism:  the rejection of Law and religious authority in favor of religious experience.  That can happen on the highest levels, and analogously, in people who have no real knowledge of Hashem, but reject  religious law and authority because they feel that it just “gets in the way.”   The tension between religious passion and halachic restraint is another dynamic component of Jewish history.



Then came water and quenched the fire (Body and Soul)

Few are fired with desire to know the Transcendent Glory of Hashem, because that fire is so readily  extinguished  by the flow of feelings and natural impulses that carry them away like an untethered raft on rapids. Those feelings and impulses are suggested by the water that that “quenches the fire that burned the stick.”



Then came the ox and drank the water (The Demands of the Body)

The ox is the natural life of every Jew sustained by the inner flow of natural inclinations.  Much as the ox would die without water,  the Jew could not live the human life Hashem created him to have without partaking in the “water” --the flow-- of his natural inclinations.  The ox drinking water represents the man preoccupied with his natural inclinations.



Then came the shochet and slaughtered the ox (Using the Body in the Service of the Soul)

If we are oxen, we are not only oxen, for we have a Divine Soul.  The ox is nourished from below. The Divine Soul is nourished from above.  They tug us in opposite directions. How can we avoid being pulled apart?  The answer lies in the will, and the single most fundamental choice we can make:  the ultimate purpose of whatever we do to feed and care for that ox. 

A person can work with the purpose of living in luxury or he can work for the purpose of supporting his family and giving more charity.  The choice to serve that higher purpose is the spiritual choice of avodas Hashem that yokes the ox to the service of the soul. The shochet personifies that choice, reciting a blessing and fulfilling a mitzvah while slaughtering the ox for flesh to feed the body.  The death of the ox signifies the transfiguration of the physical through everyday  tasks when they are done with a higher purpose, so that the efforts we make to feed the body also feed the soul. That higher purpose is like the fire that transforms animal flesh into the sweet fragrance of sacrifice  that ascends to Hashem from the altar.

Then came the Angel of Death and killed the shochet (Sin and its Consequences)

But the  consecration of everyday tasks is not unobstructed.    Adam was made to live forever.  He died because he sinned. Just as we still die, we still sin, and the impulse to sin which Adam’s sin implanted makes it hard to lift our hearts to a higher purpose.  And so we are torn between an ox that forages the  fields and a soul that forages the Heavens. Will it always be like that?  Are we condemned to live forever frustrated in our avodah by the leaven of sin and an ox that bellows for the pleasures of his greens?   

Then came the Holy One, Blessed be He and slew the Angel of Death (Hope and Redemption)

No! The sin of man brought death to a creature that was made to live forever.  Hashem won’t allow that sin to  nullify His purpose of creating an immortal being that dwells in a temporal world. Someday He will restore the creature He made in His Image and  debased himself with sin to his  original dignity.  And then, the descendants of Adam  will live forever, their soul suffused like Adam’s in the Garden by an Eternal Light that penetrates through his soul to his body and nourishes it from above, so that the tick- tock of time in the natural world no longer measures the length of his days.